Too often we turn to the Bible as if it were a trove of easy answers for complex societal issues. We treat it like an index of ancient wisdom that, if we followed it, would make everything right. In other words, we treat it like a magic wand.
What the Bible IS is a collection of stories and wisdom from many different sources, periods, and locations. Before we can understand the Bible in our context we need to understand it in its own context. While technology and society have changed in may ways, human nature remains pretty much the same over the last 5000 years. There is a lot we can learn from the Bible if we don’t treat it like a one-size-fits-all-handy-tool for everything that ails us.
So, what does scripture have to say that might be useful to our current societal debate about guns?
Well, over and over again in scripture we are taught to trust in God, not weapons, for our salvation. In Exodus, Pharaoh’s army, though technologically more advanced than the fleeing Israelites, are taken out in the rising of the Red Sea. David defeats the well-armed Goliath with some river stones and God on his side. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, says "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” Jesus himself tells Peter that “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”
On the other hand, in the Gospel of Luke Jesus does tell his disciples to arm themselves with swords, but curiously never tells them to use them. In Romans, Paul says that it is not in vain that those in authority bear the sword, so evildoers should beware. In Ecclesiastes, the writer laments "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”
The ethics of weapons and their just use is nuanced in the Bible. One could take a pacifist point of view based primarily on the teachings of Jesus, but it’s clear even Jesus said some things that could make one pause on a strictly pacifist position. One could easily make an argument for weapons being used by the state based on Paul and other sources, but that doesn’t make a case for the common citizen.
Most often the use of deadly force by an individual is couched in terms of self defense or defense of an innocent. One can make an ethical defense of this idea from biblical sources, but most often those who are lauded in the Bible are not those who kill for the righteous, but those who lay down their lives for the righteous. We see this most clearly in the example of Jesus, who could have used violence to defend himself, but did not. We know, in fact, his followers were armed, but he specifically told them not to use arms in his defense.
"So, pastor, does that mean we are not supposed to use guns to defend ourselves?” No, I’m not saying that. The question was, what does the Bible say about guns? Well, it says a lot of things. If I wanted to support the idea of using guns by individuals in their own defense, or the defense of another, I could easily string together some scripture that would support that point. But my point is, you can do that with the Bible. There’s enough material and stories in there that you can proof-text to make it support your point of view.
So, sure, you can justify owning guns using the Bible. You can also justify guns being owned only by the state using the Bible. You can also justify no one owning guns using the Bible.
But the kerygma, the core, the seed of scripture for me is Jesus and his example. That is what is key to my life as a Christian, a follower of Christ. And while he never owned a gun, saw a gun, or knew what a gun was, I’m going to bet that when he told us to love our enemies, he wasn’t asking us to shoot them. Does that mean that a Christian should never use a gun in self-defense? I’m not going to say that.
I’m reminded of a scene in the movie “Serenity” where the preacher, Shepherd Book, uses an anti-aircraft weapon to take out a military ship that was killing civilians and, as he was dying, confessed that his act was “not very Christian.” Well, was it or wasn’t it? We can point to scripture as a guide, but our faith has to carry us through our day to day living. God bless you on your journey.
Yours in Christ,